Picks and Pans Review: La Petite Sirene

updated 09/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/03/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

The subject matter, a love affair between a 14-year-old girl and a 40-year-old man, is shocking, but it's handled with restraint by French director Roger Andrieux. Just 16 when she made the film, American Laura Alexis plays the ugly-duckling cousin of a much prettier girl. One day a garage mechanic, Philippe Leotard, whistles at the cousin, and Laura, a teenager with a rich fantasy life (the title is taken from a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale), starts pursuing him shamelessly. At first Leotard, who won the French Oscar last year for his performance in La Balance, ignores her, then he tries to get rid of her, and finally he too becomes obsessed. Leotard's rumpled good looks and almost childlike manner make him, in a curious way, the innocent in this film. Alexis is astonishing, creating a beguiling mixture of ingenuousness and cunning. At first it all seems pretty funny: There's a chance encounter between Leotard's fiancée and the young girl, for instance. But then things take a dangerous turn, and the climax is jolting. The sex scenes are handled with delicacy; more is suggested than shown. To Andrieux's credit the story becomes all too plausible by the end, as the characters are drawn into a sequence of events they cannot control. (In French, with English subtitles) (No rating)

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